MILLERSVILLE — Spring Grove softball coach Mark Hull didn't know a lot about Cedar Cliff heading into Thursday night's District 3 Class 5-A championship game at Seabold Stadium on the campus of Millersville University.
One thing he did know: The 10th-seeded Colts were no pushover.
Playing in the top division of the powerful Mid-Penn Conference, Cedar Cliff finished the regular season with eight losses. Once the district playoffs came around, the Colts have played like anything but a low seed.
After spotting Spring Grove a 3-1 lead after two innings, the Colts erupted for nine runs combined in the third and fourth innings. Despite a valiant last-ditch comeback attempt in the seventh, the Rockets came up short in a 13-9 setback.
"I really didn't know much," Hull said about the Colts. "I just had some info from the last game they played. We told them not to take them for granted even though they had eight losses. They make you hit."
The Colts (16-8) pounded out 15 hits against Spring Grove pitchers Thursday. The Cedar Cliff hit parade was highlighted by freshman Jimiah McDonald, who finished with four hits — two of which were home runs — while driving in five runs. McDonald drew her team even in the third by clubbing a two-run homer to make it 3-3. She capped her terrific night with a three-run homer in the seventh that pushed her team's advantage to 13-3.
"She's done it all year for us," Cedar Cliff coach Stephen McCoy said. "She hit a bottom-of-the-seventh, two-out, two-strike, walk-off, three-run homer for us against Greencastle earlier this year. She's just a phenomenal athlete and that swing is just awesome. I'm happy that she's just a freshman."
Trailing by 10 runs heading into the bottom of the seventh, the fifth-seeded Rockets( 17-6) refused to go quietly. With some help by a sloppy Cedar Cliff defense that committed three errors in the final inning, Spring Grove was able to piece together a thrilling comeback attempt.
A walk and a couple of errors cut the deficit to 13-4 before the Rockets strung together three consecutive hits to pull within 13-7. Another error allowed two more runs to score before the rally fizzled.
"It showed that we didn't give up," Hull said. "And that's the great thing about this team — they don't give up. We just gave up too many (runs) up front and we couldn't bounce back."
Hull's club, which was playing in a District 3 title game for the first time ever, entered the contest on a hitting tear. They outscored their district opponents 22-4 to get to the final. Cedar Cliff pitcher Avery Winchell, however, shut down the Rockets from the third through sixth innings. She retired 14 of 15 batters during that span. The only one that reached was retired on a double play to end the fifth.
Brianna DiCandeloro and Bryn Sporer led a seven-hit Spring Grove attack with two hits apiece,. while Hannah Gartrell finished with a single and two RBIs.
The Rockets will now look forward to the upcoming PIAA state tournament that begins Monday. They will face the No. 3 seed from District 1 Monday at a time and location yet to be determined.
While preparing for that contest will be a challenge, Hull is also worried about another one — motivation.
"It's tough," Hull said. "Now that school is over it's tough to keep these kids motivated, but we'll do the best that we can and see what happens."
Reach Ryan Vandersloot at firstname.lastname@example.org.